How to Force Git Checkout

Brian Bojan Dordevic
About The Author

Brian Dordevic

Brian is Marketing Strategic Planner with a passion for all things digital. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or schedule a consultation call with him.

Git is one of the most useful and widely utilized tools for both developers and development teams. It allows software developers to track different code modifications by storing all the various versions in a unique database. That makes it easy for developers to work on the same code simultaneously.

Among its many commands, the one you will be using very often is certainly git checkout, as it allows you to navigate between branches or other entities in Git. However, a situation may occur with a git repository that prevents you from switching between entities.

git force checkout

If you have already faced this type of issue before and still haven’t found a way to work around it, you have come to the right place. Stick with us till the end of today’s article as our web development agency in Chicago explores how to force checkout in Git.

What does checkout mean in Git?

Git sees checkout as the act of navigating between different versions of a target entity. The command operates upon three entities. By using git checkout, you can switch between:

  • Files
  • Commits
  • Branches

There are multiple use cases for the git checkout command. Throughout this article, we’ll cover some of the most common. Let’s check them out.

How to checkout a specific commit or a file?

The git checkout command works for both commit and file levels. To checkout a specific commit, we first need to know the commit id. We can quickly get this information by running:

git log

Once we find out the id of the commit we wish to checkout, all we need to do is run the following command:

git checkout <commit-id>

At the file level, this operation changes the file’s contents to those of the specific commit. Once you reset to a specific commit, we can pull back all the discarded commits by doing a rebase:

git pull — rebase

How to checkout a branch in Git?

As we have already mentioned in the introduction to this article, the git checkout command lets you switch between different branches. As you check out a branch, you simultaneously update the files in the working directory to match the version already stored on that branch. Also, this way, you let the version control system know that each new commit should be recorded on that branch. Now, let’s see how we can use the Git command line to check out a branch.

You can create and automatically navigate to a new branch with a single command:

git checkout -b <new-branch-name>

On the other hand, switching to an existing branch requires a few additional steps. First, we need to switch to the root of the local repository like this:

cd <repository-name>

Once we are there, let’s list all of our branches:

git branch -a

Once we get the name of the branch we wish to check out, we need to use the following command to actually switch to that branch:

git checkout <feature-branch-name>

To confirm that we are working on a branch we wish to switch to, we can use:

git branch

Git doesn’t allow checking out to another branch unless your working directory is clean since you would be losing all the changes that weren’t previously committed. That means you have three options regarding changes:

  • Discard them
  • Commit them
  • Stash them

Check out a new branch or reset a branch to a start-point

Let’s see what happens if we use a command similar to the one we used to check out a new branch and add the -B flag along with an optional stat-point parameter. The start-point parameter refers to the name of the commit at which to start a new branch and defaults to HEAD.

Git checkout -B <branch-name> start-point

By using this command line, you are telling Git to perform one of the two possible options:

  • If the <branch-name> branch doesn’t exist, create it and start it at the start-point.
  • In case the <branch-name> does exist, reset the branch to the start-point.

You can use this as equivalent to the git branch command with the -f flag.

Checking out a remote branch

Checking out a remote branch is a way for team members to access each other’s work in order to review it or collaborate. In Git, each branch serves as a separate development line ensuring that changes don’t compromise the existing working code.

To switch and work on the remote branch, you use the same process as you would if you were to check out to a local branch:

git fetch

git checkout <remote-branch-name>

If both remote and one of the local branches have the same name (let’s call them xyz), we need to specify the branch we wish to check out. So, to checkout to a remote branch by the name xyz, we would have to enter the following:

git fetch origin

git checkout -track origin/xyz

In case we have multiple remote branches, we would use:

git checkout -b xyz <remote-branch-name>/xyz

The best practices of remote branch checkout

Here are some of the best practices to employ when checking out to a remote branch:

  • Commit your work often: This way, you are sharing your work with other team members more often, which in turn results in fewer merge conflicts.
  • Don’t commit to unfinished work: It is best to break your code into smaller working chunks. Once work on a chunk is finished, you should test it before committing it. This way, you will avoid potential conflicts that may arise when merging large bodies of code at the same time while also ensuring that you don’t commit small non-working code snippets.
  • Test before you commit: Make sure to test the code before you decide to commit it. Sharing untested code can take a considerable amount of time to merit if an issue appears.
  • Commit related changes: Confine your commits to directly related changes. In other words, two separate bug fixes should be two separate commits.
  • Compose clear commit messages: Summarize your changes in a single message. After that, elaborate on the motivation for the change and explain how the feature differs from its previous version.
  • Exploit Git’s branching features: By using branches in Git, you separate different development lines and eliminate any confusion during a collaboration process.
  • Agree on your workflow: Ensure that all of your team members are on the same page regarding workflow even before the start of the project.

How to command Git to force checkout?

If the version control system doesn’t allow you to check out a branch for whatever reason, you can add the -f or — force flag to tell Git to force checkout and switch branches. That’s possible even when you still have some unstaged changes, which means that the working tree index differs from HEAD.

Bear in mind that by instructing Git to force checkout, you are basically discarding local changes. With that in mind, let’s see which command you need to run to ignore unmerged entities and force checkout in Git:

git checkout -f <branch-name>


git checkout — force <branch-name>

How to use checkout to undo changes in your working directory?

You can also use git checkout to restore the file to its original version in HEAD, thus undoing all the changes made to a file in your working directory by entering:

git checkout — <file-name>

Final thoughts

Throughout this article, we have covered some of the most common use cases of the git checkout command. We have also explored the multiple benefits of using this command and outlined its best practices, as well as showed you how to make Git force checkout. We truly hope that you have found the information useful to your workflow.

Make sure that all the changes you make when working in Git are oriented toward a single goal of producing top-tier software. Meanwhile, schedule a call and let our agency provide you with the tools and info you need to write better and cleaner code. For reference, check our article on why we insist on custom-coded websites and how clean code implemented in a sensible way can help your business.

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